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Once again, Fossett awaits Libya's permission

Without clearance, 'classic' flight will end

In this story:

January 2, 1998
Web posted at: 6:41 p.m. EST (2341 GMT)

ST. LOUIS (CNN) -- Chicago balloonist Steve Fossett continued to make rapid progress as he skimmed high above the Atlantic Ocean Friday, but he may have to end his trip prematurely if he cannot get permission to cross Libya.

A winter storm over Europe and the presence of a desirable jet stream that crosses North Africa require that Fossett change direction soon. But if he does so, his course will carry him over the middle of Libya.

A L S O :

Weather delays launch of Rutan's balloon

Map of Fossett's flight from Solo Spirit Web site

"The flight is going great," said Victor Le Vine, a member of Fossett's team at a press conference in St. Louis. "But our concern is whether Libya will give permission" for Fossett to "to cross the middle of the country."

Permission to fly over Libya has been requested through formal diplomatic channels and through two other avenues that they declined to reveal. Fossett must have a decision soon so he can make alternative plans if his request is denied.

Without permission from Libya, Fossett is almost certain to have to land, ending his round-the-world flight.

Under current conditions, Fossett's Solo Spirit is scheduled to enter Libyan airspace at about 5 p.m. Saturday EST.

"We're hoping that Libya will understand the importance of this," said one member of Fossett's team. "We're operating on that basis. Suffice it to say, we're trying a number of things. We're optimistic."

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1,000 miles from London

At 2 p.m. EST, Fossett was 800 miles west southwest of the southern tip of "England, about 1,000 miles from London and moving at nearly 160 miles an hour.

He has been riding at the edge of a jet stream that is carrying him toward the British Isles. But he is approaching a winter storm that includes rain, showers, thunderstorms, thunderheads, snow and possible icing that makes changing course not only desirable, but advisable.

A further incentive is the presence of a jet stream that would sweep the balloon "right into the middle" of Libya, said Alan Blount, director of Fossett's team.

Libya has been a pariah to most of the international community, but Le Vine said he hoped it would see the value in Fossett's flight.

"This is an event that has worldwide interest and genuine scientific value," Le Vine said, "and something you would think Libya would want to be associated with, especially as it tries to get back in the good graces of the world."

Last year when Fossett made a similar round-the-world attempt, Libya gave Fossett permission at the last minute, after Fossett had already descended and shifted his course. His trip ended a few days later in a mustard field in India, far short of his effort to circle the globe.

But Tim Cole, another member of Fossett's team, said Friday that Libya's belated approval was not the reason the last attempt failed. He said there were other problems that caused it's premature ending.

'There are a lot of unknowns'

The concern this time is that unless Fossett receives permission from Libya, and quickly, he will have to land to avoid the storm, which would end his flight.

"We hope to hear from them soon," Cole said. "We have a lot of optimism, but there are a lot of unknowns."

Fossett is trying to win a contest sponsored by the Anheuser-Busch Co. for the first uninterrupted balloon flight around the world. The brewery is offering $500,000 to the first team to complete the flight and $500,000 to the charity of the team's choice. The flight must be completed by December 31, 1999.

Fossett set out December 31 from St. Louis. His third attempt to fly around the world is expected to last 15-20 days.

Le Vine said that the Libyans "are obviously sensitive about the overflight and obviously they understand that he can't maneuver ... I'm sure they've been apprised for some time...."

As for Fossett, Blount said he "is taking it matter-of-factly. He's saying we have to go for this. He knows what the options are."

He added, "If the weather patterns change, it is possible that we could maybe land in Europe."

Otherwise, Fossett's voyage has been proceeding flawlessly.

"It's been a classic transatlantic crossing," Cole said, "the balloonist's dream."


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